April 1, 1996

Academy Awards Rules Revised

Following a stormy year surrounding the snubbing of such highly acclaimed documentaries as Hoop Dreams and Crumb for Oscar nominations, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences this year announced the nominations for best documentary under new guidelines in this category. These revisions, announced last June after a three-month review by Academy President Arthur Hiller, were designed to ease the workload of the Documentary Screening Committee, which had reviewed as many as 65 feature length films in a given year.

Among the procedural changes that took effect this past year was a split of the Feature Documentary Screening Committee into a Los Angeles group and a New York group. Each group screened half of the submitted documentaries and selected a group of finalists, which were then screened by the other committee. Both committees then selected the five nominees from among this group of "finalist" films.

These committees saw each film in its entirety, and neither met for formal discussion of the films prior to voting.

The other major revision for this year's awards was in the scoring system, which was changed from a scale of four to ten to a scale of six to ten to bring the system in line with Academy practice in other categories.

Two changes voted by the Academy Board of Governors will take effect this year for the 69th Academy Awards, which will be presented in 1997. In 1996 and thereafter, a documentary film will no longer qualify for Academy Award consideration by participating in a film festival. The Documentary Screening Committee will only consider those films that have had theatrical exhibition of at least seven days during the qualifying period. Documentarians will have the option of screening their films either in Manhattan or in Los Angeles County for a qualifying run.

In commenting on this latter revision when it was announced last year, Academy Executive Director Bruce Davis noted that "it should eliminate the phenomenon that both we and the Television Academy have tried to avoid, that of pictures achieving eligibility for both Emmys and Oscars." "ln the decade after festival qualifying was instituted (1972), the average number of feature entries doubled, " Davis added. "In the next decade it tripled. It's obvious that 65 feature-length documentaries aren't achieving theatrical runs each year, and yet that's the load we've been asking our committee to deal with."

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